“State and local governments began receiving Emergency Rental Assistance funding in February and were eligible for an additional $21.5 billion passed in the American Rescue Plan,” Biden said in a statement. “Five months later, with localities across the nation showing that they can deliver funds effectively — there can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic.”
Biden’s plea came as House Democratic leaders tried to corral support among their caucus to push the eviction moratorium deadline until October, an effort that turned into a herculean task as the leadership tried to whip support at the 11th hour before the House started its nearly two-month recess. The effort ultimately failed.
About 20 moderate Democrats opposed the extension because of concerns that the period was too long for the federal moratorium to continue without oversight of how efficiently money previously approved to stem the evictions was being distributed to tenants, several Democratic aides said on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing internal negotiations.
Democratic leaders and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) huddled for over two hours Friday afternoon in Pelosi’s office, where they launched another effort — including Pelosi’s making personal calls to members — to twist arms and get support for the legislation.
Even so, the chance for progress looked slim as hours ticked by and members were seen leaving Capitol Hill after receiving little guidance about whether a vote could happen Friday evening. Knowing they didn’t have the votes, Democratic leaders still tried to pass the compromise by unanimous consent request Friday evening. It failed on an objection by Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) and the House began its August recess.
Afterward, Pelosi cast blame on Republicans for not supporting the extension and urged local governments to “take whatever steps are necessary” to distribute the rental assistance funds allocated by Congress.
“We are proud and pleased that, overwhelmingly, House Democrats have understood the hardship caused by rental evictions and support extending the eviction moratorium to October 18, 2021. Unfortunately, not a single Republican would support this measure,” Pelosi said in a joint statement with Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).
Pelosi had pushed the compromise that would have extended the moratorium until Oct. 18, after an original proposal by Waters extending the moratorium to December had faced opposition.
That would have allowed more time for state and local governments to disburse money from the $46 billion of emergency funds passed in December, giving Congress more time to pass legislation that would ensure that the money was given out faster and more efficiently.
The extension also faced strong head winds in the Senate.
“An eviction moratorium is a bad idea,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said when asked whether he would support an extension into October.
On Thursday, Biden called on Congress to act “without delay” to extend the eviction moratorium, which applies to renters who have fallen behind on their monthly payments as a result of financial hardship. Top White House aides fretted that the administration could not act on its own, as it has in the past, as a result of a recent Supreme Court ruling.
The moratorium was last extended one month ago, and little has been done in recent weeks to advance another extension through Congress. Many Democratic lawmakers and aides from the highest rungs of leadership down to the rank and file are faulting the administration for the last-minute request, especially when they could have started to draft an extension shortly after the last one passed Congress to avoid the scramble of whipping support hours before they would begin their August recess.
While Pelosi indicated that the issue would be addressed, she seemed to indicate a Plan B scenario that would kick the responsibility back to the Biden administration. Leaving a news conference Friday morning, Pelosi said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could extend the moratorium until Congress returned to Capitol Hill in September.
Still, Biden’s request prompted House and Senate Democrats to begin exploring whether they could rally enough votes to approve the new protections for renters.
As the Rules Committee meeting got underway Friday, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the panel’s chairman, said of Biden, “I quite frankly wish he had asked us sooner.”
McGovern said that an increase in evictions would lead to “supercharged” spread of the coronavirus, as displaced renters moved into tighter quarters with other family members.
“We need to get this bill to the president’s desk, and every hour is of the essence,” he said.
Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the top Republican on the committee, said Democrats were at fault for allowing the problem to “fester.”
“The administration and the majority knew very well that the end of the eviction moratorium was coming,” he said. “This issue could and should have been resolved weeks ago.”
In a statement Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would have “strongly supported” a move by the CDC to extend the moratorium, particularly given the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available,” Psaki said, referring to the court ruling last month.
That order allowed the latest extension of the moratorium enacted by the CDC to remain in place for another month.
But Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who supplied the controlling vote, said that in his view, congressional action would be needed to extend the moratorium beyond Saturday. Despite that, Biden has faced pressure from some Democrats to act unilaterally.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the president calls on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay,” Psaki said. She called the ban on evictions “a critical backstop to prevent hard-pressed renters and their families who lost jobs or income due to the covid-19 pandemic from being evicted for nonpayment of rent.”
After a congressional moratorium on evictions expired last summer, President Donald Trump ordered the CDC to step in. It issued an order in September, citing its power to take emergency actions to stop the infection’s spread. It said its moratorium applied to tenants who, if evicted, would probably become homeless or be forced to live in close quarters in a congregate or shared-living setting.
“Extending the eviction moratorium is a moral imperative — and one that is simple and necessary,” Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues Thursday night. “We in Congress have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to respect the dignity of those who have suffered so much in terms of their health, financial security and well-being.”
Pelosi said the situation has been made more urgent because little of the more than $46 billion approved by Congress for emergency rental assistance has yet been distributed to renters by state and local governments.
On Friday, Cole blamed the “mismanagement” of the Biden administration for delays in distributing the money.
Waters, meanwhile, appealed to her colleagues not assign blame but to address the issue at hand.
“The fact of the matter is children and families are going to be on the street,” she said. “It’s going to be in everybody’s district one way or another.”
In the Senate on Thursday, Democratic lawmakers led by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the leader of the chamber’s top housing panel, started preparing their own last-ditch attempt to extend the moratorium. They were seeking to approve it under unanimous consent, according to two senior Democratic aides, a tough proposition, given potential Republican objections to the idea.
Brown “supports an extension of the eviction moratorium and will work with Leader Schumer to pass legislation that will allow our nation’s renters to stay in their homes during this crisis,” a spokesman for Brown said Thursday.
Mike DeBonis and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.